- USGA/Chris Keane photo
"You always have to have a plan."
This one motto perfectly captures both why Andy Ogletree
was able to make his way from tiny Little Rock, Mississippi to the top of the amateur golf world as U.S. Amateur champion; but also why his life has been so upended by the continuing coronavirus pandemic that has thrown everything -- including the best-laid plans -- up in the air.
It's hard to have a plan when virtually nothing in the future is certain. Ogletree's plan was to make a run with his No. 3 ranked Georgia Tech teammates to an NCAA championship. But with the college season coming to a sudden halt, his college career is over.
The plan was to play in the Masters (paired with Tiger Woods), the U.S. Open, and the British Open, all of which offered exemptions to Ogletree as the U.S. Amateur champion. But the Masters has been postponed, and the U.S. Open, to be played near the current coronavirus hotspot in the U.S., is in jeopardy.
Finally, the plan included getting enough starts to gain status on the PGA Tour, but no one knows when the tour will resume or what the schedule might look like.
So for Ogletree, the past is much clearer than the present or the future. It is easy to see how he came to this point; a win at the Monroe Invitational
(like Pinehurst a Donald Ross classic) and a final 16 finish at the North & South Amateur (at Pinehurst) previewed the form and provided the experience that would fuel his run to the U.S. Amateur title at Pinehurst
. Then came success at the Walker Cup
, a promising senior season at Georgia Tech, and what was a well-laid-out plan for the immediate future.
As a part of our Tournament Talk series, AmateurGolf.com founder Pete Wlodkowski spoke with Ogletree, who clearly is still trying to come to terms with the new reality, and is holding on to one of the few things he can control: his golf game.
You can listen below (or on SoundCloud
or Apple Podcasts
), or read the transcript highlights below (which have been edited for clarity and length).
Interview with Andy Ogletree
Where were you when you found out that your season, and your school year, were cancelled?
We were at our Georgia Tech practice facility...and our assistant coach got a phone call...saying that all NCAA championships have been cancelled for the spring semester. Shortly after that we got a text from Coach Heppler saying "everyone come to the practice facility; we're going to have a team meeting"...and he told us that he thinks that everything will eventually get cancelled.
We were getting ready to leave the next day for a tournament, everybody was feeling pretty good, and we had a really good team: three seniors, a junior and a sophomore that have all played really well. And we were trending in the right direction; it was going to be a really good spring.
Ogletree (center) and the Yellow Jackets won the Puerto Rico Classic in February (Georgia Tech photo)
But the news hit us pretty hard. You come here to try to play in a national championship and try to win and we thought this was a really good chance for us and we really felt confident about where we were heading this year. And that's kind of taken away now, so I've had a little time to reflect now and the more it sets in the worse feeling it leaves.
Right now I don't know many answers. We're just trying to learn as much as we can and stay as positive as we can. We still have a few guys that have hung around Atlanta so we're still hanging out and practicing together. Everything practice-wise is still kind of normal. There are a few courses that are shut down and living conditions are a little different, but we're still able to practice and we're still able to have that team bonding that we've always had.
It sounds like you're seeking respite in golf, which is good, but you don't have anything to prepare for immediately; your life was turned around.
Exactly, we're preparing for the unknown. We don't really know what we're preparing for.
But you have a lot to prepare for because, if the U.S. Open ends up getting played, you're exempt. The Masters is going to get postponed and hopefully get played later in the year. And you're also exempt into the (British) Open Championship. What does that do to your plans to potentially turn professional or to even to potentially return (to Georgia Tech), as your eligibility could be extended according to the NCAA's recent decision? Have you made any of those decisions yet?
Obviously my mind is racing. I'm trying to talk to a lot of people to get a lot of answers but honestly no one really knows when the PGA Tour season is going to start back up. There's no one who knows for sure if the U.S. Open is going to be played. There's no one who knows for sure if the British Open is going to be played. Because no one knows when the tournaments are even going to start back.
So yeah, I have a lot of stuff to look forward to if
it all goes as planned and everything stays on schedule but for now I'm not going to get my hopes up on making a plan or getting a schedule because right now there's too much unknown. Whenever that day comes, when golf is back to normal, I'm going to be ready. That's the outlook I've had on it. Whether that be professional tournaments or amateur tournaments, I want my golf game to be in the same place. So it doesn't really matter to me, I'm just ready to play golf tournaments again.
Sounds like the attitude of a U.S. Amateur champion! Whatever you decide to do, I'm sure you're going to have a chance to do it, but it was all made possible by winning the U.S. Amateur. So let's take a step back to August of 2019, you're four down after five holes against a fine player (John Augenstein). You had seen some tweets that said that maybe he deserved to be there and wasn't sure if you deserved to be there. It sounds like you got a little bit of motivation from that.
Andy Ogletree tees off in the 2019 U.S. Amateur final (USGA/Chris Keane photo)
The night before I saw some tweets that only one of the players has the credibility to his name, and stuff like that, and that doesn't sit well with me. I'm a competitor; I'm a competitive guy. I always have been. And winning a golf tournament has been the priority of what I do forever. So that didn't sit well with me and I was just focused on winning the golf tournament.
I wasn't worried about the first four holes, the first ten holes, I knew it was going to be a long day. John is a great player and 36 holes is a lot of golf. Whoever plays the best over the 36 holes is going to win the match. I've been asked a lot about being four down through five and I keep telling everyone I never thought I was going to lose. I kept telling myself 36 holes is a lot of golf and let's focus on one shot at a time and if it's good enough at the end it's good enough. If not I'll be fine with it because I tried my hardest.
I think I won four of the last seven holes so people could say "What about winning four of the last seven holes?" but they didn't. They said "How did it feel being four down through five?" There are different runs like that in match play. It doesn't matter if it's early in the round or late in the round, over the course of the day it just matters what's on the scoreboard. So I really felt like I stayed one shot at a time, one hole at a time, and never beat myself.
You had some opportunities late in the day when you were really squaring things up in that match. He took driver out on the 31st hole, you laid up with an iron, and hit a wedge on there. You played the hole your way and you made the birdie, and then on 16 (the 34th hole), you could have easily not made a ten footer and been even standing on the 17th tee and yet you canned probably the biggest ten-footer in your life.
Definitely. I think back to that putt a lot. It was probably the biggest shot of my life honestly. If I miss that putt it's all square and he has the momentum with two to play. So I think that was definitely the biggest moment of my life, stepping in there and making that putt. It gave me a lot of confidence going forward. To know you can make those putts under the heat, be under the gun and still perform, it was really cool and I think it will help me a lot in the future.
It was huge and you both hit really good shots on 17, which is one of my favorite par 3s.
That green complex is really severe and the greens were so firm throughout the week. If it wasn't a front pin it would have probably made the hole tougher because with a front pin you can hit a shorter iron and spin it a little bit. With a back pin, I remember balls bouncing over the green all week. Definitely not an easy hole to step up with a one stroke lead on, but got that one exactly where I wanted and I had an uphill putt with a great chance to win it outright there but just missed it.
It's shocking in a sense; he gunned it ten feet by and missed. You didn't expect it to end that way but I've got to imagine it was a sigh of relief but also a little weirdness to you at that point.
I expected him to make the first one. I think what you should do in match play is expect the person to pull off the shot every time, so you're never really surprised if anything happens. But he was not leaving that putt short, I understand that, and that's the competitive nature in everyone. They want to make that putt, and they don't want to leave the putt short that could have been the end (of the match). So I could see how that could easily happen. If I'm in that same situation there's no chance I'll leave that putt short. So I don't think John's going to look back and regret giving that putt a run. Not the way I envisioned winning but at the end of the day, as I said earlier, if that [happens on] that 4th hole of the day, no one talks about it, but since it's the 35th hole everyone talks about it and makes it a bigger deal than, to me, what it is.
Like I said, I think you won that match with the putt, the ten footer on a hole (the 16th) that is a par 4 for you guys, a par 5 for everyone else.
- USGA/Chris Keane photo
Tough hole, especially for me. I like to work the ball left-to-right, so that tee shot is always a little awkward. The pine trees hang over the fairway and you have to draw it off the bunker on the right. Blocked it out there and hit it in the bunker.
Earlier in the year, you won the Monroe Invitational at a gorgeous little Donald Ross course in upstate New York. Tell me a little bit about that one, winning another historic trophy there.
I've played the Monroe I guess four times now. I played it going into my freshman year of college, and I've played every year since. I've come close a couple of times. Two years prior to winning this year I shot 62 in the final round, so I thought "Alright I'm going to come back next year; I finally had a really good round on this course!"
I finished 7th that year and only lost by three or four strokes, so I came pretty close. I came back the next year, and I think I had a putt to tie for the win--I might have lost by two--anyway lipped it out on 18, either lost by one or two. That golf course is so good. It's not long, but it's still challenging. The winning score is one or two under every year somehow. You play the course in the practice round and you're like "This course is very gettable"; it's like 6800 yards, all the par fives are reachable. But for some reason, when the tournament starts, the pins get tough, they don't cut the rough and it seems to always get windy there. It's just a really good golf course and I've played some great golf.
I've stayed with the same host family every year. They were nice enough to let me stay with them four years in a row so I developed a really good relationship with them. I always wanted to go back and play that tournament, to stay with them, catch up, and get to play a really good golf course.
Let's give them a little shout-out.
It's the Doyle family. Their son Gunnar Doyle
plays golf at West Point. I've known them for four years now and I've always enjoyed going back to the Monroe.
You went from Donald Ross (at the Monroe) to Donald Ross (at Pinehurst for the U.S. Amateur) and there are a lot of similarities in those two courses.
Andy Ogletree with the Monroe Invitational trophy (MIC photo)
There definitely is, especially in the green complexes. You know what you're getting into when it says that Donald Ross is the architect.
With all the experience you gained at the Monroe, and having won there, how did you file that information away and use it at Pinehurst?
It had been a while since I slept on a lead at a tournament. I've come close in a lot of college events. Last year especially I had a few second-place [finishes], lost by one a couple of times. The ACC Championship last year was the last lead I had going into the Monroe, and I ended up losing by one to John Pak
, who is a great player. He kind of outplayed me the final round.
But I think all of those small experiences and learning from all the mistakes that I made definitely helped me at the U.S. Am, to feel a little more comfortable. Obviously the Monroe is not as big of a stage as the U.S. Amateur, but there are a lot of similarities in the golf courses, a lot of similarities in sleeping on a lead. To me, it doesn't matter the strength of the tournament, it is still winning a golf tournament. So that's something that I had to get used to again, and I've learned a lot abut myself and I know what my tendencies are under pressure and how to handle that. The Monroe definitely helped me.
You come from the small town of Little Rock, Mississippi, where your dad runs a supermarket. Tell me about that.
He has a Piggly Wiggly about ten minutes from my address. My address is in Little Rock, Mississippi and there's nothing there except a gas station. Just pretty much an address, a community. I went to school in Union, and my dad owns a Piggly Wiggly in Union and some other stuff. He has a small take-out steak business on Friday nights, and he owns some buildings and stuff. My granddad was mayor of the town. So our family is very well-connected with everyone there and I literally know everyone who lives in the city I'm pretty sure. To see the whole town come behind me... I would get on social media and everyone was watching. It was such a cool feeling to make your hometown proud and to give everyone a little bit of excitement, to let them cheer for a sport that they're really not used to.
What was your golf situation? How close was the nearest course and where did you pick up that first club?
The sign at the Piggly Wiggly says it all (WTOK-TV photo)
My high school team played at a nine-hole course in Union. It was somewhere to play. It was a short course that had been there forever. To get somewhere that I was used to playing in amateur events, I had to either go to Northwood or Dancing Rabbit, which were about 30 minutes away.
Dancing Rabbit had a course with bent grass greens and a course with Bermuda greens, and had one course with bermuda fairways and one with zoysia fairways. So whenever I was getting ready to go play a junior tournament I'd always have somewhere to practice to get ready for that because that pretty much covers all the course conditions in the country.
Northwood is a shorter course, kind of like a Monroe. It's all position golf, the green complexes have a lot of slope and the greens are always super fast. So I had a good mix of different kinds of places to play, and then at school if I just wanted to go somewhere and get a quick nine in I'd go to Union Country Club with my high school team.
Sounds like you were always working, always thinking, and that's what you have to do to get better. As a junior player, you had the mindset that "I need to putt on these greens because I'm going to go out to a junior tournament and I'm going to have those greens."
You always have to have a plan.
Before we wrap up, tell us something about Andy Ogletree that we don't know, something that is interesting or that you want to take to the game. If you're on the PGA Tour some day, what are people going to know you for?
I'm just a small-town kid; I'm never going to change. I love golf, I love the process of getting better. I have a big group of friends and I'm never going to change that and I'm never going to be a guy that changes the way I go about things. I'm going to "keep doing me", and try to get as good as I can at this game that I love and see where it takes me.
Would you ever have thought it was going to take you to a Masters invitation?
Yeah, I did. Golf has been what I have done for a really long time and I'm blessed with a really good ability from the man above, but I've worked really hard and I've always seen myself in positions like this, and why I practice so much is to give myself these opportunities. So I can't wait to hopefully take advantage of them.